He was also very stubborn. He was starting to feel poorly in early 2018 and many of us encouraged him to go and get checked out at Bumrungrad or down in Singapore. He was not moved and had a hundred excuses why there was no need. Reluctantly, he eventually went down to Singapore with Sam where the diagnosis was confirmed. I flew down to see them there and explained that the school would support whatever treatment was required. I remember clearly sitting with them in the Intercontinental Hotel having a conversation over some beer and wine and all of us managing to find some humor in the fact that we were even having the conversation. His challenging journey through chemotherapy and radiation began there.
Of course, the staff and students at the school, as well as the community, were shocked with the news. People began sending supportive emails and students put together cards with messages of hope and a fair amount of jokes which I know Murray appreciated and loved. We sent him video messages of encouragement from assemblies and from the Senior Leadership trip in Kep at the start of the next school year. I will always remember the thunderous applause he received at his first assembly back in the school. The disease was in remission and he was on the road to recovery.
Parallel to this, one of our cleaning ladies, Ms. Srey, had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Since the insurance company would not cover her chemotherapy treatments, the teachers and staff banded together to pay her bills. Srey was reduced to a weight of 100 pounds at the height of her treatment but hung in there and eventually came back to the school fulltime. She received a standing ovation in the black box when we brought her out, so the students could meet a very brave woman. She had another year with her family until the cancer returned and she too succumbed. We were with Srey until the very end, visiting her daily in the hospital and then at her home in Ta Khmau where she died. I remember Murray visiting Srey in Sunrise in her final week there and he was shaken by the visit for obvious reasons. That was the fall of 2018.
Murray and I often talked about how supportive the ISPP community was with how it treated people, including himself and Srey. Murray extended this compassion to the CCF community in Steung Meanchey. Murray was one of the driving forces behind establishing the scholarship program at ISPP and he was very proud of that achievement that has done and is doing so much for a group of very bright underprivileged children. Murray was an advocate for the less fortunate and had a keen sense of fairness. He was also brave enough to speak truth to power and was never afraid to speak up and give a direct and common-sense explanation when it was most needed.
Murray helped the team of teachers visit the CCF schools and joined in all the activities which led to the very difficult decision of which students to select. The students were delightful, enthusiastic, kind and motivated – they were children. After every interaction, Murray and the teachers involved became more and more confident that they were involved in something much bigger than themselves and that their work on Saturdays and after school was going to have a great impact on the families of these children for years. Murray was very proud of this because he knew in his heart that it was good work. The scholarship program is a great legacy Murray has left us.
When there was a horrific fire in the Steung Meanchey, our senior students organized a food and clothing drive for the now homeless. Murray was so proud of them for this. He insisted on accompanying the students with their two truckloads of supplies down to the makeshift community and personally got stuck in unloading the trucks with our students. You must remember that Murray had just come through the last of his chemo treatments and was very weak. I remember he tweaked his back carrying a 19 litre bottle of water, which of course he should not have been lifting. But as I said, the man was stubborn and always determined to help.
When I left the school at the end of the 2018-19 school year, Murray was in remission and feeling great. We hosted the scholarship children and their families for a BBQ down at our house with Murray and Sam, so I could say goodbye. Murray was in the swimming pool horsing around with the excited students and saying hello to the families. After the BBQ finished at dusk, the families made their ways home and Murray, Sam, Tracy and I shared some drinks in the garden under a beautifully clear Cambodian sky full of stars and talked about how grateful and lucky we were to be there together. That was a moment.
I was also lucky enough to meet Murray at a teacher recruiting conference in Bangkok a year ago. He was looking great and feeling fine. I said it may have been due to my departure and I do not remember him rushing to dispute that. We had a great catch up over a few beers and planned to get together the next time I visited Cambodia. Of course, the pandemic put those plans to one side.
Murray called me when the cancer returned last fall and I was thankful that he left a voice message because I am not sure I could have held it together when I got the news. I did call him the next day and we kept in touch right up until the end. He couldn’t use the phone eventually. The last message I got through to him, via Nurse Desiree, was that I was thinking of him. ‘’Good,’’ he replied.
To me ‘’good’’ simply sums up who Murray was – fun loving, great sense of humour, smart, caring, brave and resilient. We lost a good one, but we gained so much from knowing him. My heart goes out to Sam, Sophie and Zach who knew this good man more than any of us. He was great friend and I really miss him.